Byron had five minutes to live and no one to spend it with. Five minutes of nothing, just silence and brightness.
All he could do was watch and wait, watch and wait.
He almost spoke to the Woman in front of him, but couldn’t stand to hear his own voice. She sat on the bench with a perpetual smile and empty eye sockets, rotting teeth and flaps of skin gray and torn from her cheekbones, her skeletal hand on the ground, palm winding away into dust in the wind with each breeze.
The Woman’s voice was the last voice Byron ever heard, besides his own. The thought of speaking into nothingness was too much to bear.
He still couldn’t understand how he’d found her, months ago, as though she’d been sitting on that bench the entire time, waiting for him while the sun exploded and flames stretched toward the planet, reaching to tear them apart.
She’d spoken to him three months ago at the very same bench. At the time, Byron had been struggling to hold onto reality. Knee deep in needles and spent bags of powder, Byron could barely see straight. Alone for three years, he found himself bored and not quite willing to take the leap off the highest skyscraper, so he did what he could to stay alive and make reality his own. Any kind of drug or distraction had helped Byron simply live after being alone for so long.
This Woman. She had beautiful skin, smooth and shining from sweat, cheeks a deep red, hair curly and frizzy but somehow was meant to be that way. She was perfect to Byron. Her red cheeks grew more intense as they talked, and Byron could feel the chemistry between them, the heat being processed.
“I didn’t know anyone would still be here, let alone anyone like you.” His voice was cooked, raw, leathery. he’d barely been able to muster a sound, only prodded himself further after hearing her chuckle on first seeing him. He’d sat next to her, unable to look away. There was a faint drizzle in the air, moist and warm water starting to rain down and blow in the winds that had begun to pickup. By nightfall the winds would overtake the city and more trees would fall, the last remaining bones of sidewalk landscaping.
But for now, there was Byron and the Woman. “I do believe you’re flirting with me.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone, talked to anyone.”
“You’ve still got confidence. I like that.”
“Where did you come from?”
“Upstate. Nowhere town you’ve probably never heard of.”
“There haven’t been towns for years…unless…” He stopped. He didn’t want to think it was true, but couldn’t deny that she might be just like him, have come from a time almost forgotten.
“Are you, are you as old as –” She laughed, cutting him off.
“Oh, dear, all this time and you still ask a woman her age?” She laughed, harder, her cheeks flaring red. The look in her eyes went from joy to understanding and acceptance. She let out another chuckle —
And then she flashed out in a flame. Like that. Mid-sentence, mid-laugh.
Byron couldn’t help but laugh at the sight, tears immediately trailing down his face, wet and boiling to his chin. He watched her body flare up once more, top layer of skin burning away.
He stood and ran from the flames, then, and kept running until darkness folded in on him and he awoke miles away, an area he recognized from the fields of yellow (once was green) grass. He waited in this field for months, eating whatever remnants of bugs or insects he could find.
Then he saw the sun begin to sputter and burn, and ran back to the bench.
To the last living human he would ever see before the sun ate the planet.
And he waited, and watched, and waited. As the sun burned closer and closer. He almost spoke, but decided to wait in silence instead.
He felt a burning, looked into the holes within the skeleton of the Woman who had laughed. He smiled and began to laugh as the heat became unbearable.